Easy listening (sometimes known as mood music) is a popular music genre and radio format that was most popular during the 1950s to 1970s. It is related to middle-of-the-road (MOR) music and encompasses instrumental recordings of standards, hit songs, non-rock vocals and instrumental covers of selected popular rock songs. It mostly concentrates on music that pre-dates the rock n' roll era, characteristically on music from the 1940s and 1950s. It was differentiated from the mostly instrumental beautiful music format by its variety of styles, including a percentage of vocals, arrangements and tempos to fit various pars of the broadcast day.
|Cultural origins||1940s, United States|
|Space age pop|
Easy listening music is often confused with elevator music ("Muzak"), or lounge music, but while it was popular in some of the same venues it was meant to be listened to for enjoyment rather than as background sound.
The style has been synonymous with the tag "with strings". String instruments had been used in sweet bands in the 1930s and was the dominant sound track to movies of Hollywood's Golden Age. In the 1940s and 1950s strings had been used in jazz and popular music contexts. As examples in the jazz genre, there are the post-World War II recordings of Charlie Parker and the 1955 recordings of Clifford Brown and Helen Merrill. Early examples of practitioner in the popular context were Dinah Washington in 1951, and Jackie Gleason in 1952. In the 1950s the use of strings quickly became a main feature of the developing easy listening genre.
Similarly, in 1956 John Serry Sr. sought to utilize the accordion within the context of a jazz sextet in order to create a soothing mood ideally suited for "low pressure" listening on his album Squeeze Play. Jerry Murad also contributed to the music, including a variety of types of harmonica.
The magazines Billboard and Record World featured easy listening singles in independently-audited record charts. Generally 40 positions in length, they charted airplay on stations such as WNEW, New York City, WWEZ, Cincinnati, and KMPC, Los Angeles. Record World began their listings January 29, 1967 and ended these charts in the early 1970s. Billboard's Easy Listening chart morphed into the Adult Contemporary chart in 1979, and continues to this day.
During the format's heyday in the 1960s, it was not at all uncommon for easy listening instrumental singles to reach the top of the charts on the Billboard Hot 100 (and stay there for several weeks).
Beautiful music, which grew up alongside easy listening music, had rigid standards for instrumentation, e.g., few or no saxophones (at the time, the saxophone was associated with less refined styles such as jazz and rock and roll), and restrictions on how many vocal pieces could be played in an hour. The easy listening radio format has been generally, but not completely, superseded by the soft adult contemporary format.
According to the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, "The public prominence and profitability of easy listening [in the postwar years] led to its close association with the so-called 'Establishment' that would eventually be demonized by the rock counterculture." In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), rock critic Robert Christgau said "semiclassical music is a systematic dilution of highbrow preferences".
Easy listening singers
Easy listening/lounge singers have a lengthy history stretching back to the decades of the early twentieth century. Easy listening music featured popular vocalists such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwick, Bill Kenny, Astrud Gilberto, Matt Monro, The Carpenters and many others. The somewhat derisive term lounge lizard was coined then, and less well known lounge singers have often been ridiculed as dinosaurs of past eras and parodied for their smarmy delivery of standards.
In the early 1990s the lounge revival was in full swing and included such groups as Combustible Edison, Love Jones, The Cocktails, Pink Martini and Nightcaps. Alternative band Stereolab demonstrated the influence of lounge with releases like Space Age Bachelor Pad Music and the Ultra-Lounge series of lounge music albums. The lounge style was a direct contradiction to the grunge music that dominated the period.
- Keightley 2012, p. 192.
- Rosen, Jody (June 7, 2005). "The Musical Genre That Will Save the World". Slate.
- Murray, Noel (April 7, 2011). "Gateways to Geekery: Sunshine Pop". The A.V. Club. Onion Inc. Retrieved November 27, 2015.
- Musiker & Musiker 2014, p. 16.
- Lanza et al. 2008, p. 161.
- AoL Music (2012). "Jackie Gleason Albums". AoL Music. AOL Inc. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
- The Cash Box, Album Reviews, Cash Box Publishing Co., New York, December 8 1956, Vol.XVIII No. 12, p. 38 Review of album "Squeeze Play" in Cash Box magazine, Pg. 38 on americanradiohistory.com
- The Billboard - Review and Ratings of New Popular Albums - Squeeze Play, December 1, 1956 p. 22 on books.google.com
- Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits. New York City: Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0-823-07693-2.
- "Walter Wanderley Summer Samba (So Nice) Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
- Radio Station Format Guide Archived 2006-03-27 at the Wayback Machine
- John Shepherd, David Horn (eds.) (2012). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 8, p. 194. ISBN 1441148744.
- Christgau, Robert (1981). "The Guide". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0899190251. Retrieved March 30, 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
- "American Notes LAS VEGAS--- Stop the Music!". Time. August 21, 1989.
- Sean Elder. "Bill Murray". Salon.com. Archived from the original on 2008-01-12. Retrieved 2008-01-18.
- Spindler, Amy M. (March 7, 1995). "Review/Fashion; Chic Prevails Over Grunge". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-12.
- Lacayo, Richard (May 25, 1998). "Ring-A-Ding Ding". Time. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
- Borgerson, Janet and Jonathan Schroeder (2017). Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-2620-3623-8.
- Keightley, Keir (2012). "Easy-Listening". In Shepherd, John; Horn, David (eds.). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 8: Genres: North America. A&C Black. ISBN 978-1-4411-4874-2.
- Lanza, Joseph; et al. (2008). DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid (ed.). Sound Unbound:Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-26646-6.
- Musiker, Naomi; Musiker, Reuben (2014). Conductors and Composers of Popular Orchestral Music: A Biographical and Discographical Sourcebook. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-91770-8.